Exploring this Job
While in high school, be sure to get involved in clubs that will help you explore your interests and skills in cooking and photography. Most schools have a yearbook or newspaper that you can join as staff photographer. Also check to see if there is a cooking club that you can join in addition to taking family and consumer sciences classes.
You can also explore this job outside of school. If you have a camera (even one that's on your smartphone), you are ready to explore the field. Take test shots of kitchen and food items, paying attention to how different lighting and props affect the end result of the picture. Show your pictures to your friends and family and ask their opinion about your work. Does it make them hungry? Do they want to ransack the fridge after looking at your picture? If so, you might be on to something.
Start a blog that features your photographs of food and commentary about food and the photographic process. Talk to food photographers about their careers.
Food photographers have many of the same duties and responsibilities as other photographers, except their subjects happen to spark an appetite. They must set up shoots with clients and decide on the look of the shot. Once a date is set, the photographer has to make sure all the props are ordered and that he or she has enough help for the shoot. The photographer or the client may hire food stylists, camera assistants, and prop movers to aid in the shoot.
A lot of extra care has to go into the preparation and styling of the food. This is why a separate stylist is almost always necessary for a successful food photo shoot. While the stylist is busy designing the food and placing it on the proper plate, platter, or other background, the food photographer is busy readying his or her technical elements. Cameras, lighting, and props must be arranged and prepared. The photographer is usually the one who decides on the location and other details of the shoot. For example, natural light may look best on some foods, such as fruits and vegetables, but more dramatic lighting might look better when capturing the richness of a chocolate truffle. Lighting for dramatic effect is one of the many decisions that the photographer must make.
These preparations and test shots take time. Because the food may be fragile or affected by temperature, it is not unusual for food photographers to use food "stand-ins." Once the shot is fully set up and the client is happy with the look, the photo subject, called the "hero dish," is brought in, and pictures are taken quickly to make sure the food remains looking fresh and appealing.
Food photographers and stylists have many tricks to make their food look fresh and appetizing—though many of these tools are far from natural. For example, they may use melted wax to keep a hamburger bun on straight or spray Armor All onto a tortilla to keep it from drying out. All these skills are necessary to make sure food withstands the demands of the shoot.
Most food photographers use digital cameras to capture images. They may store the images on portable memory devices such as compact discs, memory cards, and flash drives. After they've transferred the images to their computer, they use image editing software such as Adobe Photoshop to crop images, correct the color, and add other special effects.
Many food photographers work as freelancers, contracting work out themselves. Those who do this usually spend the majority of the time not taking photos, but running their business. They have to promote their business, find new clients, bill clients, pay bills, hire assistants, organize upcoming shoots with clients and stylists, negotiate fees, order and stock supplies, and balance budgets—just to name a few tasks. In other words, freelance photographers are much more than commercial artists—they must be skilled businesspeople, too.